[July 13, 2006]
Why on God’s earth would a Black Canadian woman with a well-established background be an active supporter of Israel? That’s a question that many people have asked about me, particularly when they learn that not only am I a founding member of Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel, but have since had the audacity to be elected as Chair of the non-partisan Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Friendship Group! It has been interesting to learn the motives ascribed to me by some of these same individuals: I must be anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab; I must be doing it so as to tap into the Jewish Canadian communities’ financial support; I must be anti-human rights or anti-Muslim. Or worse still, I must be a neo-conservative wolf masquerading as a lamb of peace.
The facts of the matter are that, as someone who has militated for several decades now to promote the fundamental values and principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, I believe it is my moral and ethical duty to actively support Israel. In the words of one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "… I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world…"
I’ve had the privilege of being born in Canada and enjoying the fruits of our democracy throughout my life. I’ve also experienced, directly and indirectly, racism, bigotry and discrimination, an affront to all democratic values and to fundamental human rights and human dignity. My ancestors were enslaved for over 400 years and countless lost their lives in their struggle for freedom, for liberty and for acknowledgement and respect of their basic human rights. Israel is a vibrant democracy, based upon the rule of law with all the diversity of thought, of politics and of ethnicity that one would expect in a modern democracy. It is a democratic state that has, as do all democratic states, strengths and weaknesses, because like any democratic society, it is not perfect, just as Canada, my beloved country, is not a perfect democracy. Knowing that, I truly believe that all those who profess to advocate fundamental democratic values must stand and support Israel and its right to exist!
Does this mean I must therefore necessarily be anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab or anti-Muslim? No, definitely not. I am pro-democracy, pro-human rights and pro-rule of law. I support the struggle of many Palestinians to establish their independent democratic state. I support freedom of religion and I support the efforts of millions of Arabs to promote fundamental human rights and democracy within their respective countries. Many Quebecers will be familiar with the case of the three elderly Palestinian refugees, the Ayoubs, who had been ordered deported from Canada and who spent over a year living in a Notre-Dame-de-Grâce church basement. What many may not know is that I actively supported, lobbied and advocated on behalf of the Ayoubs, urging our government to allow them to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. With the combined efforts of the parish members and countless others, we succeeded in convincing Citizenship and Immigration Canada to allow the Ayoubs to stay. That is just one example of how I try to advance the cause of fundamental democratic values within our country.
In my view, any person who considers himself or herself to be a human rights activist must ensure that human rights are not used as a tactic to isolate democratic societies. In the words of Alan Dershowitz "… when human rights become a tactic, selectively and successfully invoked by the worst violators against those who make serious efforts to comply with the rule of law, human rights lose all objective meaning and their continued utility in the ongoing struggle for international justice becomes diluted."
Of course we must criticize Israel when its failings are evident and proven – to do so is not anti-Semitic. As I stated, no democratic state is perfect, none is exempt from committing errors (sometimes with devastating consequences) and from adopting bad policies. But in the words of Thomas Friedman of the New York Times: "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction – out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East – is anti-Semitic and not saying so is dishonest."
That is why I support Israel and why I am prepared to and do criticize Israel when I believe its government to be wrong, while at the same time, trying to do my utmost to uphold its fair name.